Senate Passes Legislation to Support West Coast Fishing Jobs

Provision that allows fishermen to refinance federal loans clears Congress, headed for President’s signature

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03) applauded Senate passage of bipartisan legislation they sponsored that will help boost the West Coast groundfish fishery and protect maritime jobs.

The Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act (REFI Pacific Act) was included as a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which the Senate passed Friday. Having cleared the House of Representatives December 4, the legislation now heads for President Obama’s signature. Cantwell sponsored the legislation in the Senate. It was introduced in the House by Herrera Beutler and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA-02).

The REFI Pacific Act helps fishermen by ensuring they receive the same interest rates on federal loans as other businesses, and extends the length of these loans from 30 to 45 years. In addition, the legislation caps the fees that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is able to collect from fishermen.

“This is a victory for West Coast groundfish fishermen and fishing jobs in the Pacific Northwest,” said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. “The ability to refinance buyback loans will provide fishermen in the West Coast groundfish fishery with flexibility to grow their businesses. I’m proud to have joined Rep. Herrera Beutler in leading this bipartisan legislation through Congress.”

“It is great to see our bipartisan fishing jobs bill – the REFI Act – clear another hurdle and head to the President’s desk,” Herrera Beutler said. “This much needed relief for fishermen on the West Coast cannot come soon enough. I am grateful for Senator Cantwell’s partnership on this initiative that serves the communities in Southwest Washington and all along our coast.”

Many fishing businesses in the West Coast groundfish fishery have struggled to pay high interest rates on federal loans, fees on their catch, and rising observer costs. The Secretary of Commerce declared the West Coast groundfish fishery a federal fisheries economic disaster in 2000 because of overcapitalization and overfishing. In 2003, Congress authorized buyback loans for the fishery to decrease fishing pressure and support a catch-share program in the fishery. These loans help eliminate overfishing by buying out the permits of fishermen willing to leave the fleet. The remaining fishermen in the fleet have since been responsible for the loans.

Washington state’s maritime economy as a whole supports $30 billion in economic activity and supports 148,000 jobs. 

Cantwell is a long-time advocate for initiatives that protect the health of the ocean’s resources and coastal economies. Herrera Beutler represents communities throughout Pacific, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties that depend on the fishing industry.